My favorite kind of trade deadline is a good, old-fashioned arms race.
That's when all the contenders, either fearing for their lives or wanting to raise the roof even higher, go after the nearest available superstar.
Its antithesis, and what we're getting more and more used to, is a superstar just waiting to be gifted away to the highest bidder (of his liking, of course).
Last year, it was Carmelo Anthony. This year, it would have been Chris Paul, had the NBA not wisely taken care of business in the frantic preseason, or Dwight Howard, if the man hadn't gone through some kind of emotional roller coaster and had to run damage control by kicking the can one year down the road.
Instead, we got a rare kind of bird. The trade deadline that brings plenty of action, but very little that will affect the best teams in the league come playoff time. In other words, no one who matters used trades to gain any sort of competitive advantage or separate themselves from their closest competitors.
You would think, in a year when the West is almost entirely up for grabs, with young teams badly needing some veteran clout and older squads some fresh legs, it would have been the ideal time for some franchise to pull ahead with a blockbuster. This trade season, it's not even clear that any team managed to make itself better.
Actually, that's a stale, myopic way of putting it. Some middle-of-the-pack team may have—either a playoff squad whose roster prevents it from getting over the hump or a team with bright young talent looking to clear the decks for an eventual run at legitimacy.
It's like in chess, when one move sets up another way down the line, and not just clearing out cap space to try to rent an entire new team over the summer.
The two most eventful, and byzantine, of the deals that went down certainly reinforced this "long game" approach. It's exactly the kind of thoughtful planning we want teams to do—moves that show there's a will to get better and a plan to get there that isn't desperate or short-sighted.
Say what you will about the convoluted Milwaukee Bucks-Golden State Warriors swap, which sent Monta Ellis to Milwaukee for, in effect, Andrew Bogut's big contract, loud mouth and unreliable physique. It was win-win, lose-lose—two teams taking calculated gambles that are neither overly brainy nor resoundingly stupid.
The Warriors have been trying to dump Monta forever, and Bogut could provide them the center they have always wanted. The Bucks got Ellis, a truly deadly scorer, and got rid of Bogut's deal and unreliability.
Oh, and Stephen Jackson went from Milwaukee back to Golden State, but that was just a stopover for him to end up back with the San Antonio Spurs, the unlikely spiritual home where he first gained recognition and remains beloved to this day by coaches, players and fans alike. Playing an instrumental role in their 2003 title certainly helped.
Another example of this is the three-way Denver Nuggets-Washington Wizards-Los Angeles Clippers deal. The Wizards got rid of goofballs JaVale McGee and Nick Young (good young players) but hardly the spitting image of a positive winning culture.
In return, they got Nene, a borderline-star big man who makes less than McGee may fetch on the open market this summer, based on the money DeAndre Jordan got and McGee's sky-high potential.
Young went to the Clippers, who have dudes like Chris Paul to keep him in line, and where he will provide ample firepower off the bench. No one's season has been altered, but all of these moves bode well for these teams' respective futures—or at least one of them.
The Portland Trail Blazers seemingly set about tearing down whatever successful team was left from the squad expected to compete for years in the West. The ageless Marcus Camby and versatile swing-man Gerald Wallace were sent packing, and in return, Portland got young players who seem to have failed to pan out (Jonny Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet) and old dudes like Mehmet Okur, who once was an All-Star.
They're rolling the dice, I suppose, while letting their recognizable assets go in an attempt to rebuild.
Maybe it's not entirely accurate to say that playoff teams did nothing to advance themselves. The Lakers picked up Ramon Sessions and symbolically dropped Derek Fisher. Sessions is a quick-scoring point guard, a viable option and if not the greatest defender, at least not certain to get torched nonstop like Fisher.
And the Spurs traded Richard Jefferson, who had been reduced to a three-point shooter, for the far more versatile and aggressive Jackson. Neither is a glamorous acquisition, but they fill holes.
In this especially uncertain year, it's these little moves that might end up making all the difference.